Birthday boy Dennis Schröder had no time for extensive celebrations on the day before the biggest basketball game of his career. After the loss of the superstars Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic, the captain and his team have a unique opportunity to crown the exciting days of the home European Championship with the title in Berlin.
"We expected to get this far, but our mission is not over yet," said national coach Gordon Herbert before the eagerly awaited semi-final against world champions Spain on Friday (8:30 p.m. / RTL and Magentasport).
All players are available to Herbert
On the day before the classic game against the three-time European champions, the mood among the Germans was relaxed. Herbert had all twelve players available for training in the Max-Schmeling-Halle, including the recently injured Franz Wagner, Johannes Voigtmann and Nick Weiler-Babb. Towards the end of the session, Schröder briefly grabbed his cell phone to play loud music from the big box on his 29th birthday. After that, the point guard talked to Herbert for a while and continued to make a few three-pointer throws. The Germans didn't feel much nervous before the big game.
The hype surrounding the game is huge by basketball standards. More than two million viewers on free TV, crowded and loud halls and an unexpected boom: Basketball Germany is in a kind of emergency before the biggest game in 17 years. And Schröder and Co. are right in the middle.
Unlike the silver medal in 2005 in Serbia, this time the national team is not carried by Dirk Nowitzki as the sole entertainer, but by a collective led by Schröder, who define themselves through team spirit and strong defence. "We have so much depth and so much quality, it's unbelievable," said Schröder after the impressive 107:96 quarter-final victory over Greece and Antetokounmpo, who, like Doncic with defending champion Slovenia and Nikola Jokic, traveled home with the highly favored Serbs without a medal got to.
With that, the way seems clear for Germany to the second European Championship title after 1993. Spain and France are no longer as outstanding as in the days of Pau Gasol or Tony Parker, Slovenia conqueror Poland remains a blatant outsider despite the spectacular surprise. "Before the European Championships, the goal was a medal. Of course we want gold now," said center Daniel Theis. Going out of the weekend without a medal would be a disappointment in view of the current euphoria and the rest of the field of participants.
The EM duel with the recently heavily rebuilt Spaniards has a tradition after the encounters in 2001, 2005, 2015 and 2017. "Spain has an incredible basketball culture. They play good basketball. It's a semi-final, of course it's going to be a tough game," said Johannes Thiemann from Alba Berlin, who sees the 14,000 fans expected in the arena at Ostbahnhof as a big factor. "Saturday was sluggish, but Berlin showed that there is another way. That gives us an incredible amount of energy. Please do the same in the semi-finals," demanded Thiemann.
German success has many faces, even if it is largely supported by a collective. Schröder, who is still without a club in the NBA, looks like he has changed and is improving from game to game. Young NBA star Franz Wagner is already the discovery of the tournament, behind them role players such as Theis, Andreas Obst and co-captain Johannes Voigtmann also fill out their tasks ideally. "The whole team is ready," said Schröder.
EM euphoria should arouse enthusiasm for basketball
The captain is hoping for less drama than in the gripping semi-finals of 2005, when Nowitzki converted the winning throw against Spain just a few seconds before the end to make it into the final. "Let's hope it won't be that tight. Let's hope we can pull through. We don't have Dirk doing the last one like that." But a team that is extremely resilient and enthusiastic, even without prominent failures like Maxi Kleber or Moritz Wagner.
Above all, there is the great hope that the EM run will trigger lasting enthusiasm. "It was the plan that we put basketball back on the map. We tried to make basketball more popular in Germany through our game," said center Thiemann. Crowd favorite Franz Wagner from the Orlando Magic also hopes that many will emulate his example in the future. "Hopefully you can get the ball rolling that more kids want to play basketball," Wagner said. The biggest stage for advertising is on Friday evening.